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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 216

Indigenous Education

Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (14:11): My question is to the Minister for Education. Will the minister outline to the House the government's plan to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in literacy and numeracy outcomes?

Mr PYNE (SturtLeader of the House and Minister for Education) (14:12): I thank the member for Hasluck for his question. As members would be well aware, today the Prime Minister delivered his Closing the Gap report for 2014 and he announced that we would be attempting to end the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children in terms of school attendance within five years and that would be added as one of the targets of the Closing the Gap program initiated by the previous government.

As the Prime Minister said this morning, no-one has ever received a good education by not turning up to school. Upon coming to government we have moved quickly to try and address the issue of school truancy but also meaningful education at school that keeps bringing students back every day. In the Northern Territory alone, my cabinet colleague Senator Scullion tells me that 13 per cent of Indigenous students attend less than 80 per cent of the time that they should be at school. That makes it virtually possible for them to achieve the same outcomes as non-Indigenous Australians. So we have moved quickly. We have allocated $28.5 million to employ 400 school attendance officers in 40 communities in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. Early signs since the beginning of this year's school year show an increase in attendance from 60 per cent to 90 per cent in those communities, which is a tremendous result. Let us hope we can continue that throughout the year and into the future.

Once we get children to come to school, we want them to be taught meaningfully. Last week I was in Bamaga and Injinoo at the top of Cape York with the member for Leichhardt and visited school communities there. What has been most transformative in that school community has been a focus on phonics teaching through explicit instruction. Over the last five years that was the first school in Queensland to adopt explicit instruction. Their NAPLAN results between 2008 and 2013 have dramatically improved. And while I do not have time to go through the results in this answer, they are startlingly good. That is why we intend to expand direct instruction, explicit instruction and phonics into more rural and remote communities, particularly Indigenous ones, through a $22 million program, the details of which will be announced over the coming weeks, to give a meaningful education to Indigenous children when they present at school and to keep them coming. Through these measures, we will not only reduce school truancy but also improve the outcomes of students and start to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in terms of school attendance and outcomes.